Consciousness: physicist/psychiatrist explains? (General)

by David Turell @, Thursday, May 18, 2017, 15:51 (614 days ago) @ David Turell

This odd mix of PhD's does not lead to an explanation:

"As a physicist and psychiatrist, I find it difficult to engage with conversations about consciousness. My biggest gripe is that the philosophers and cognitive scientists who tend to pose the questions often assume that the mind is a thing, whose existence can be identified by the attributes it has or the purposes it fulfils.

"But in physics, it’s dangerous to assume that things ‘exist’ in any conventional sense. Instead, the deeper question is: what sorts of processes give rise to the notion (or illusion) that something exists?


"As a consequence, I’m compelled to treat consciousness as a process to be understood, not as a thing to be defined. Simply put, my argument is that consciousness is nothing more and nothing less than a natural process such as evolution or the weather. My favourite trick to illustrate the notion of consciousness as a process is to replace the word ‘consciousness’ with ‘evolution’ – and see if the question still makes sense. For example, the question What is consciousness for? becomes What is evolution for? Scientifically speaking, of course, we know that evolution is not for anything. It doesn’t perform a function or have reasons for doing what it does – it’s an unfolding process that can be understood only on its own terms. Since we are all the product of evolution, the same would seem to hold for consciousness and the self.


"Applying the same thinking to consciousness suggests that consciousness must also be a process of inference. Conscious processing is about inferring the causes of sensory states, and thereby navigating the world to elude surprises. While natural selection performs inference by selecting among different creatures, consciousness performs inference by selecting among different states of the same creature (in particular, its brain).


"But if consciousness is inference, does that mean all complex inferential processes are conscious, from evolution to economies to atoms? Probably not. A virus possesses all the self-organising dynamics to qualify as a process of inference; but clearly a virus doesn’t have the same qualities as a vegetarian. So what’s the difference?

What distinguishes conscious and non-conscious creatures is the way they make inferences about action and time.


" In our daily lives, this suggests that temporal thickness or depth waxes and wanes with the sleep-wake cycle – that there’s a mapping between the level of consciousness and the thickness of the inference we’re engaged in. On this view, a loss of consciousness occurs whenever our models lose their ‘thickness’ and become as ‘thin’ as a virus’s.


"We’ve gone fairly rapidly through the arguments. First, if we want to talk about complex systems, including living ones, we have to identify the necessary behaviours that their processes exhibit. This is fairly easy to do by noting that living entails existing in a set of attracting states that are frequented time and time again. This implies the existence of a Lyapunov function that is identical to (negative) self-evidence or surprise in information theory. This means that all biological processes can be construed as performing some form of inference, from evolution right through to conscious processing.

"If this is the case, then at what point do we invoke consciousness? The proposal on offer here is that the mind comes into being when self-evidencing has a temporal thickness or counterfactual depth, which grounds the inferences it can make about the consequences of future actions. There’s no real reason for minds to exist; they appear to do so simply because existence itself is the end-point of a process of reasoning. Consciousness, I’d contend, is nothing grander than inference about my future."

Comment: He describes what consciousness does, but not its inner mechanism if one exists. Very long complex article.

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